I’m sitting on my own in a library café idly listening to the conversations around me, since I have no-one to talk to. Most people are studying something together. There are some young adults doing university work, something sciency, and a couple nearest me are learning a language and I notice the intricate script (Chinese?) as the girl’s pencil makes rapid small strokes on the page. But my attention is caught by hearing someone shout out in Greek from a nearby table. It turns out he’s hailing his Greek teacher and I observe their lesson from a distance, not really able to hear the words but noticing the dynamic between them.
It is friendly and looks relaxed, as you’d expect an adult learning situation to be, but serious in intent. The student pulls a concentration face as he tries to answer the grammatical questions his teacher asks. Each time he gets something wrong, he comments on it, providing an excuse almost for his lack of recall or knowledge. “It’s not the same in English… I’ve never thought about verb tenses in that way…. I haven’t had time to revise that vocab….” Why does he feel the need to justify himself each time? Why doesn’t he just accept that he doesn’t know everything already and that’s why he is having lessons?
It made me reflect on the recent private yoga lesson I had with my teacher. He’s careful always to give me time to speak, to reflect on my understanding or to ask questions, and he is obviously listening in really carefully, trying not to lay his own assumptions on my words. I value this and our conversations are always a rich source of ideas and inspiration…. But I also notice that I feel obliged or habituated to comment on my ability or understanding in each physical posture we study and I come to wonder now about this behaviour. It suddenly feels a bit egocentric or arrogant. Does my impulse to speak get in the way of my ability to listen?
In public classes my teacher’s theme for the month is the value of a practice of silence, how spoken words can perpetuate the chitter-chatter of our minds which runs contrary to the aim of yoga. So I wonder how would it be if I could receive my teacher’s words more quietly, without so much need to comment or excuse myself for not being more proficient than I am? After all I’m there to learn. And I am very aware of the shortcomings of my practice and how attentive my teacher is to my postures and my form — so there will always be something he notices, even if we spent 10,000 hours together (supposedly gaining mastery in that time!). If I could receive his help more quietly, perhaps with more humility and less self-justification, would I hear more as I try to settle into more intimate relationship with my body and my breath through the yoga shapes he gives me?
After all, why would he care to hear my excuses about why I find something difficult? Yoga is difficult! He said that loud and clear, that much of his words I did listen to!